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November 2014 Retro Gaming Article


November 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Amazon's Echo digital assistant for your home seems cool... and reminiscent of Furby

When Tiger released Furbies in 1998, it was a pet, a friend, a robot, and an electronic mystery. Part of the mystery surrounded it's alleged ability to learn. In theory, the more you spoke to it, the more words it would learn. Some folks swore their Furby was indeed learning new things while others lost interest when the first set of batteries expired. BTW- Furbies did not learn. They simply said more english words as time marched on.
Amazon Echo digital assistant
Amazon has launched a very ambitious product - Echo. If you use a digital assistant on your phone - like Siri, Echo is an assistant for your house. Connecting to Amazon's services via wifi and to your music via bluetooth, Echo's gig is catering to your voice commands from filling a room with music or answering a question.

Amazon Echo logo From the current time to weather conditions and trivia, this home device is also said to "learn" your routine. From Amazon- The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences. In 1998, that notion didn't hold much value. I hope we've progressed beyond Furbies in terms of Echo learning about you and your routine.

At a high level, I love what Echo can do in terms of looking up info via voice command. Many will say it's a gimmick, but I can see some utility in such capability. Building a grocery list as I shout out random items would be a boon to my disorganized shopping habits. I'd love to be surfing the web and let Echo keep track of random things as I encounter them. I'd love to task Echo as my list-maker. A new band, book title, topic of interest, a DVD release, a game to research... the possibilities are endless.

I like the idea of this product, but I have a few reservations about it. The video shows it being used as an alarm clock int he bedroom and an assistant in the living room... do I need to unplug it every time I want "services" in another room? How many of these $200 assistants does one house need?

Amazon Echo digital assistant We saw IBM's Watson take on Jeopardy contestants and deliver a lot of info in an instant. I wonder about Echo's diversity when it comes to delivering information. I can dive into Wikipedia and other sites to seek a fact. What about when I go to Arcade History to see how many sequels there were to Sega's Out Run. Will Echo know how to find such info?

Breadth of knowledge is one of my primary concerns. Echo is not a toy and not a Furby. If it is to operate in an always-on capacity and deliver as Amazon claims, it has to have access to a lot of diverse info and a mechanism for parsing requests. This is a fascinating product that will likely need vast improvement before it's ready to satisfy a demanding consumer. It may still be too Furby-like.

Artificial intelligence has come a long way since Eliza, but a $200 wifi appliance only knows what it is told. The human brain works in mysterious ways that science is still unlocking. Products like Echo attempt to imitate aspects of intelligence, but products like Echo need to fill specific roles that are helpful to consumers. I think it's a cool product, but it may simply be an expensive way to cheat at trivia games.

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